Caitlin Gregg and David Norris are 2016 American Birkebeiner champions, each outlasting a competitive international field in the 51-kilometer freestyle race on Saturday to claim their fourth and first Birkie victories, respectively, in Hayward, Wis.
A U.S. Ski Team member and perennial Birkie favorite, Gregg, of Team Gregg, skied a strategic race to drop all but one competitor in the women’s elite race, Aurelie Dabudyk of Team Haute-Savoie and Le Grand Bornad, France, with more than 10 kilometers to go. Gregg attacked slightly after Mosquito Brook at the 38 k mark, Dabudyk went with her and the two went head-to-head to the Main Street finish, with Gregg leading across the Hayward Lake and all the way across the line.
For Gregg, 35, it was her fourth Birkie victory, making her the winningmost skier in the event’s history.
“It always feels great after you win a race like that,” she told USSA’s Tom Kelly after winning in 2:22:44.5 hours, holding off Dabudyk by 5.1 seconds.
The overall Worldloppet Cup leader, Dabudyk secured second, and a regular on the U.S. SuperTour circuit, Erika Flowers of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team placed third (+1:51.1). A Montana native, Flowers held off Italy’s Elisa Brocard (Haute-Savoie) and Klara Moravcova of the Czech Republic for the third spot on the podium. An early race leader, Brocard placed fourth (+1:52.5), and Moravcova finished fifth (+1:54.2). Italy’s Antonella Confortola was in the money in sixth (+2:00.7), Switzerland’s Rahel Imoberdorf and Nicole Donzallaz placed seventh (+2:55.8) and eighth (+2:56.8), Rosie Frankowski of Alaska Pacific University (APU) was ninth (+3:09.5), and CXC’s Alice Flanders 10th (+5:55.1).
In the men’s race, APU’s 25-year-old Norris outlasted three Frenchmen at the finish, winning his first Birkie title in his first try in 2:05:35.4. France’s Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (Haute-Savoie) placed second, 1 second back, Benoit Chauvet (Gel Interem Rossignol) was third (+1.3) after pushing the pace to break up the pack with about 8 k remaining, and France’s Adrein Mougel (Gel Interem Rossignol) finished fourth (+4.7).
“Benoit took off the front and he had a gap and I went and closed that,” Norris explained of Chauvet’s move. “Only five other people went with us so a pack of 20 broke down to five. … Across the lake, we were doing cat and dog and no one was really pushing. I’m not confident in my sprint generally, so I was just like, ‘I need to be first off the lake and that will at least give me a shot for the podium.’ And then I came off the bridge and I just went as hard as I could and I was blown away that no one was coming up on my sides.”
Switzerland’s Candide Pralong (Gel Interem Rossignol) placed fifth (+6.6), France’s Mathias Wibault was sixth (+8.7), and last year’s winner Sergio Bonaldi (Team Salomon Italia) of Italy was seventh (+12.9). Cracking the top 10, Kris Freeman (Team Freebird) was the second American in eighth (+33.7), Canada’s Ivan Babikov was ninth (+34.9), and Tad Elliott (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail) 10th (+38.9).
In the 55 k classic Birkie, Welly Ramsey (Maine Winter Sports Center) won the men’s race and former Michigan Tech skier Deedra Irwin of Wisconsin claimed the women’s title.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth recap.